Mining in South Africa continues to be plagued by uncertainty and challenges. Globally mining has been tough and for those working in the industry in South Africa there are additional challenges they have to face. The global mining crisis and the impact this has had on mining in South Africa is a problem. There are issues around labor uncertainty, infrastructure, health and safety regulatory and legislative uncertainty, and illegal mining operations. All these issues have created an atmosphere of uncertainty for those working in the industry.

For women in mining in South Africa things are even harder as over and above all the other issues that the industry faces as a whole, they also have numerous gender related challenges that they have to contend with. One does however need to be mindful of the fact that mining companies not only in South Africa but worldwide have worked very hard over the years to improve the work environment for women in  mining worldwide, however despite this, women still do face numerous challenges.

According to an article by Creamer Medias Mining Weekly who base their information on a study conducted by the Woman in Mining South Africa (WiMSA) organization in conjunction with the school of Mining Engineering at the University of South Africa, in 2013 women still felt that they were not being treated equally by their male counterparts.

Creamer Medias Mining Weekly state that the study comprised of 242 respondents, 89% of whom were professionals in the industry, while 77% held operational posts and of those involved in the study 51% were between the ages of 26 and 35. The good news that came out of the report was that the proportion of women students enrolling in mining had increased. However the bad news was that women felt that they were still facing challenges in the mining industry.

These challenges included a lack of mentorship, a lack of guidance, a lack of workplace support and of hygiene facilities. Women as a whole also felt that there was insufficient career and development guidance. Health and safety were also issues that women felt were not being addressed properly. Women also felt that men were given more opportunities based on gender, rather than accomplishment.

Fast forward to 2015 and according to another article by Creamer Medias Mining Weekly it seems that there are still significant challenges that women in the mining industry in South African are facing. There have been some positives including the fact that the intake of women into the mining industry has been higher than the percentage targeted by the Department of Mineral Resources (DMS). South Africa has worked very hard at improving legislation and increasing the amount of women working in the mining industry.

However even with the focus on increasing the number of women representation in mining, women still make up only 11% of the operational mining workforce. It seems though that despite these efforts, that South African women working in mining still feel they are being discriminated against. For women working underground in mining, conditions remain challenging for women as a whole. Apart from the harsh conditions that they work in underground, women still face challenges including being restricted to nearby accommodation such as hostels, and sexual harassment.

An article on the 4th October 2016 in the Mail & Guardian highlighted the plight of women in mines in South Africa. According to the article women still face massive challenges and safety issues on a daily basis, including verbal harassment and physical abuse in the form of rape. The safety of female mineworkers is a growing concern and requires a shift in policy and legislation to protect them, says Sanki Molefe the head of the Rustenburg’s women structure of the national union of Mineworkers (NUM). Sexual harassment continues to be a massive problem for women in mining in South Africa. Many women live in neighboring communities where they have families and have to travel at least 60km to mines for the early shift. This can involve having to wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning.

It is sad to see that women in mining in South Africa are facing so many hardships. Mining is a tough industry to work in at present worldwide, let alone the additional gender related hardships and burdens that women in South Africa currently face in the industry.


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